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Day to REACH campers learn the importance of family

Zella Thode loved going to Target.

She loved roaming the aisles of the big box store, but more than that, she loved engaging with other customers in the store.

“We would go to Target all the time, and people that didn’t even know her would just kind of stop and say, ‘Hi,’ because she was smiling at them or waving at them,” Matt Thode, Zella’s father, recalled. “She was amazing. I mean, she had one of those voices, and one of those smiles, that anybody that saw her, even if you didn’t know her, she would just brighten your day with her smile.”

Memories of that bright personality are still strong, nearly a year after Zella’s death, at 8 years old, from a heart defect Sept. 16, 2021.

Her spirit continues to live on in the form of a scholarship fund that received a significant boost from an extended family that gathered Friday afternoon in Whalen Gymnasium at Hutchinson High School at the conclusion of the 15th annual Chad Greenway Day to REACH football camp.

Camp organizer Chad Harlander and former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Greenway presented Zella’s parents, Matt and Sara Thode, with a $10,000 check for the Zella Thode Scholarship fund as the approximately 300 campers cheered.

The donation was one of two made during Friday’s camp wrap-up ceremony. The other donation, of $5,000, went to Colby Smith, 39, a Hutchinson football alumnus who was paralyzed in an automobile accident at 17 years old, to assist him in the purchase of a new wheelchair.

Both donations, Harlander told campers assembled in the bleachers, are reminders of what it means to be “family” — with FAMILY being the theme of this year’s camp.

“This is what it’s all about. This camp is all about family,” Greenway said.

Family goes far beyond the traditional definition of blood relatives, to a community and friends who support each other, Harlander said.

“Lead with your heart,” Harlander said in a message prior to the camp. “This family is soft spoken, have never asked for anything during the many years of appointments, surgeries.”

For Matt Thode, who has served 10 years as a volunteer coach at the Day to REACH camp, that could not have been more obvious as he stood on the gymnasium floor following the presentation. He’s seen plenty of donations made during his association with the camp, but he said he and his wife had no idea their daughter’s memory would be honored in such a way.

“You know, this isn’t just a town, it’s a community,” Thode said. “When Zella died … we were overwhelmed with how many people came and expressed their sympathies for us, and how many people brought flowers, and how many people made meals for us, just kind of taking time out of their lives to really help us and show that they were behind us, and that they cared for us.”

Zella was born with Dextrocardia, hypoplastic left heart syndrome and Scimitar syndrome. Dextrocardia is a condition in which the heart is in an abnormal position in the chest, and occurs in about 1 in 12,000 pregnancies. Hypoplastic left heart syndrome causes the left ventricle of the heart to be underdeveloped.

Zella had her first open heart surgery in her first week of life She defied doctors’ expectations as she fought through two open-heart surgeries and numerous other treatments and procedures.

As memorable as her fighting spirit was Zella’s kindness, her father said.

“She was honestly the most beautiful person I’ve ever met,” Matt Thode said. “I mean, she was never mean to anybody. She was just the most fun, loving, amazing person.”

When a friend suggested the family start a scholarship fund in her name, the Thodes loved the idea. The family awarded its first $500 scholarship to a Hutchinson High School senior this past spring.

The $10,000 gift from Day to REACH camp will allow the scholarship to continue for many years.

“We’re just very, very blessed and very overwhelmed by the contribution,” Matt Thode said. “I think it’ll just kind of keep her in our hearts and we’ll have something to give to others that might need it.

“We’ve talked about what we want in this scholarship and what the, you know, ‘stipulations’ are of receiving it, and it was more of just, we want something to just give to those people that maybe don’t have that 4.0 (grade point average), or they really could just use the money, they’re trying to make their way through college,” he added. “That’s kind of what we’re hoping for.”

It’s the kind of paying-it-forward message — and “family” message — that resonates with adults who make the Day to REACH camp happen each year, and provides an illustration for the young campers who participate.

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RiverHouse brings new dining, entertainment option to downtown Hutchinson

If there’s one thing Eric Labraaten wants people to know about Hutchinson’s newest restaurant, RiverHouse Kitchen + Drinks, it’s this:

It’s open. Now.

“I mean, the biggest thing is, we’ve been asked — I’ve been asked — probably 5,000 times, when we’re going to open,” Labraaten said with a wide smile. “So I would like … to put it in big, bold letters. We are open. We can finally say that.”

RiverHouse opened Monday, after a four-day “soft opening” in which invite-only customers provided the owners, along with kitchen, bar and wait staff an opportunity to fine-tune their approaches for the official opening day, paying crowd.

It’s been a long-time coming, Labraaten acknowledged, but the calendar for opening changed due to extensive renovation of the building on Main Street, which housed the former Hutch Café.

“We went into it (thinking) we wanted maybe a small restaurant down here and turned it into a complete, complete remodel of the building,” Labraaten said. “We ran into a lot of hiccups with a 100-something-year-old building, so one thing led to another and we just ended up having to do more and more, which is fine. Now we’ve got a beautiful building and we’re ready to roll.”

Labraaten and Ray Zeuli are longtime friends, and when the Hutch Café went up for sale last year, the pair saw an opportunity to combine their diverse experience and talents.

“I’m a business owner … Ray has been managing restaurants for about 25 to 30 years,” Labraaten said. “It’s a good combination, a good team, of him having the restaurant experience and me the starting business experience.”

Labraaten owns other local businesses, including ACC Midwest Transportation and Auto Xpress, but he says he was interested in the Hutch Café for a long time, because of its location in the heart of downtown and his friendship with the sisters — Angie Jergens, Maureen, Ziemer and Teresa Plombon — who owned the business.

When they decided to sell, Labraaten and Zeuli were ready, and the sale was completed in June last year. The Hutch Café closed, and the new owners set to work transforming the building to create their own restaurant — though as Labraaten said, their original plan grew significantly. That’s why their original reopening goal — Oct. 1, 2021 — got pushed out.

Labraaten and Zeuli first envisioned a family restaurant that would operate on the first floor. That’s still the vision, but the partners quickly decided that a longer-term goal of a second-floor bar and rooftop patio dining, should be part of their immediate renovation plan.

While it was quite a project, Labraaten and Zeuli are happy with the transformation the building has undergone and are excited to have people enjoy the atmosphere.

While it looks completely different from the old Hutch Café days, RiverHouse Kitchen + Drinks has a goal of maintaining the family-friendly atmosphere and even some of the approach to food of its predecessor — while bringing new things, like that rooftop patio and live music.

“We wanted to keep the feeling of the Hutch Café a little bit downstairs … and we wanted to provide an atmosphere for our family and some of the older customers,” Labraaten said. “And then upstairs, we knew we wanted a bar, so more of a fun, exciting atmosphere with the live music every weekend, just trying to have a different place for people to go and relax and talk and have a drink, maybe watch some live music, but a different scene than your traditional bar.”

Labraaten described the menu at RiverHouse Kitchen + Drinks as American cuisine, with some surprises. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as late night appetizers, the restaurant will feature a broad selection of breakfast items for the morning crowd, and for lunch and dinner — pastas, burgers and steak. Zeuli also plans to bring in fresh fish specials, such as red snapper on the weekends, along with catfish and other specials.

“It’ll be very unique tasting food,” Labraaten said. “I mean, it’s going to taste different than anywhere else in town, no doubt about that. How we prepare our food, from the French toast to the waffles, it’s just different than everybody else’s. And we’re very proud, very excited to be able to provide good food to the community.

“Different and affordable food … that’s important to us,” he added. “Ray takes a lot of pride in what he does. I think people will be amazed at how good the food is.”

Excitement about the new restaurant goes beyond customers. Labraaten said they received more than 250 applications, and they started their first week of operation with 65 full- and part-time staff.

“We’re ecstatic about the staff that we got hired,” Labraaten said. “We really understand the need to have the three things — good service, you have to have good food, and you have got to have good pricing. I think we definitely checked all those boxes.”

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The annual Relay for Life of McLeod County is Friday, Aug. 5
  • Updated

Cancer. It’s a word none of want to hear. It touches almost everyone and it’s the second leading cause of death in the United States.

This Friday join the fight against cancer by attending the Relay for Life of McLeod County. This year’s theme is Light the Night Purple.

Erika Smith of Hutchinson is the event lead. She has been involved for seven years. This is her first time as chair. Joining her on the committee are the following: Mackenzie Boeckers, Jennifer Burley, Deidra Beilke, Kim Karels, Kelly Mickolichek, Ashley Telecky and Sadie Jenkins.

“I originally got involved with a couple of friends who needed help volunteering,” Smith said. “Then they asked me to join the Event Leadership Team. Then cancer started affecting me personally — my mom, my dad, my father-in-law, my mother-in-law.”

The annual event is community driven and volunteer based. Last year, the local relay hours were shortened from an all-night vigil to 4 p.m.-midnight. This year’s event will follow the new schedule but will remain at its longtime location at Masonic/West River Park along the Crow River in Hutchinson.

As much as the Relay brings awareness to the fight against cancer, it’s also a night of celebration for those who are survivors and a time to remember those who lost their lives to the disease.

“This year we’re really trying to increase community involvement from individuals going through this and their caregivers,” Smith said. “There are tons of resources out there — through hospitals and American Cancer Society. Our mission is to educate and spread why we’re doing this and help as many people as we can.”

While the event opens at 4 p.m., the opening ceremony is at 6:30 p.m. and will feature Casey O’Brien as the guest speaker. He is a five-time cancer survivor, placeholder for the Minnesota Gophers football team and a University of Minnesota graduate. He was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 13. Since then he has dealt with multiple bouts of treatment including surgery and chemotherapy.


Before and after the opening ceremony, attendees are welcome to visit the many booths. There is a silent auction, minnow races, arts and crafts, and food and dessert. Midwest Party Supplies is offering giant chess and laser tag, plus some other activities. There’s also ax throwing, cow poop bingo and more.

There’s plenty to do,” Smith said. “Something for everyone.”

New this year: The Hutchinson Cancer Center will be at Relay for Life.

“It is putting a face to a name for those going through cancer,” Smith said. “To be able to partner with them is super important — first time at the event.”

Also new this year is the entrance. The city requires all events at Masonic/West River Park to use the Montana Street entrance. It will take visitors past the Gopher Campfire Wildlife Sanctuary and enter the parking area from the east.


This year’s fundraising goal is $100,000, as of July 28, $38,842.99 had been raised with eight days to donate. The money is used to fund cancer research and patient care programs. Every dollar is helping the American Cancer Society save lives.

“I set it high to come back strong,” Smith said.

There are 11 teams participating this year, with one online only. For more information about supporting the local Relay for Life teams and individuals, visit

Relay for Life of McLeod County started in 1993. It is one of more than 5,000 relays in 20 countries. For more than 35 years, communities have come together to honor and remember loved ones and take action for lifesaving change. Funds raised through Relay for Life directly support research, 24/7 support for cancer patients, access to lifesaving screenings and more.

“We’re really excited to see everyone down at the park,” Smith said. “We hope everyone is as excited as we are to come and support what we are doing.”

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Primary Election is Aug. 9
  • Updated

Minnesota's Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 9. Do you know where to vote?

Hutchinson recently established its 2022 polling locations, some of which have changed from years past. The new locations dictate:

  • Hutchinson Precinct 1, which covers the portion of the city east of State Highway 15, will vote at Ridgewater College, 2 Century Avenue Southeast.
  • Precinct 2, which covers everywhere north of the Crow River and west of State Highway 15, but also some portions of the city west of downtown and south of the Crow River, votes at Days Inn, 1000 Highway 7 West. 
  • Precinct 3, which covers southwest Hutchinson, west of State Highway 15 and south of the Crow River, save for a portion of the city near downtown, votes at the Recreation Center, 900 Harrington Street.

See the map published with this story for more details.

A complete list of local voting locations was provided by McLeod County. The remaining locations are:

  • Brownton — Brownton Community Center, 310 - 2nd St. N., Brownton
  • Glencoe — Glencoe City Center, 1107 - 11th St. E., Suite 112, Glencoe
  • Lester Prairie — Lester Prairie City Hall, 37 Juniper Street, Lester Prairie
  • Silver Lake — Silver Lake Auditorium, 320 Main St. W., Silver Lake
  • Stewart — Stewart Community Center, 551 Prior St., Stewart
  • Winsted — Winsted City Hall, 201 - 1st St. N., Winsted
  • Acoma Township — Acoma Town Hall, 23486 - 230th St., Hutchinson
  • Bergen Township — Lester Prairie Sportsmen's Club, 3548 - 180th St., Lester Prairie
  • Collins Township — Stewart Community Center, 551 Prior St., Stewart
  • Glencoe Township — Glencoe City Center, 1107 - 11th St. E., Suite 103, Glencoe
  • Hale Township — Hale Town Hall, 9527 - 220th St., Silver Lake
  • Hassan Valley — Township Hassan Valley Town Hall, 420 Ames St., Biscay
  • Helen Township — Plato Fire Hall, 112 - 2nd Ave. N.E., Plato
  • Hutchinson Township — Gopher Campfire Club, 24718 County Road 7, Hutchinson
  • Lynn Township — Lynn Town Hall, 14995 County Road 7, Hutchinson
  • Penn Township — Penn Town Hall, 15989 - 40th St., Brownton
  • Rich Valley — Township Rich Valley Town Hall, 16543 Ideal Ave., Glencoe
  • Sumter Township — Brownton Community Center, 310 - 2nd St. N., Brownton
  • Winsted Township — Winsted Fire Hall, 431 - 6th St. S., Winsted
  • Biscay — mail ballot
  • Plato — mail ballot
  • Round Grove Township — mail ballot

Another option is in-person early voting. Hutchinson residents can vote early at City Center, 111 Hassan St. S.E., during normal business hours, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.

There are extended hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 6, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 8.

All McLeod County precincts can vote early in person at the McLeod County Government Center, 520 Chandler Avenue North, Glencoe. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.


This year's primary ballot will feature races to select party candidates for state and federal offices. As the ballot is a partisan ballot, voters are only permitted to vote in the races of one political party.

Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party: Voters can select from the teams of Steve Patterson and Matt Huff, and Darrell Paulsen and Ed Engelmann for the gubernatorial candidates. 

Legal Marijuana Now Pary: Travis "Bull" Johnson appears as the sole U.S. Representative District 7 candidate.

Voters can select from the teams of James McCaskel and David Sandbeck, and Chris Wright and L.C. Lawrence Converse as gubernatorial candidates.

Republican Party: Michelle Fischbach appears as the sole U.S. Representative District 7 candidate.

Voters can select from the teams of Joyce Lynne Lacey and Kent Edwards, Bob "Again" Carney Jr. and Captain Jack Sparrow, and Scott Jensen and Matt Birk as gubernatorial candidates.

Voters can select Kim Crockett or Erik van Mechelen as the Secretary of State candidate.

Voters can select Doug Wardlow, Jim Schultz or Sharon Anderson as the Attorney General candidate.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party: Voters can select Alycia R. Gruenhagen or Jill Abahsain as the U.S. Representative District 7 candidate. 

The teams of Ole Savior and Julia M. Parker, and Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan are gubernatorial candidates.

Voters can select Steve Simon or Steve Carlson as the Secretary of State candidate.

Voters can select Keith Ellison or Bill Dahn as the Attorney General candidate.